It Ain't Half Hot Mum star Windsor Davies dies at 88
Windsor Davies, best known for his role as Sergeant Major in the Seventies BBC sitcom It Ain't Half Hot Mum, has died age 88. According to his daughter Jane Davies, he passed away peacefully on Thursday 17 January, four months after his wife Eluned Davies in September.
Jane Davies says her parents left a large family "who will all remember them with love, laughter and gratitude".
Davies, who was born in London to Welsh parents in 1930, initially worked as a coal miner like his father, until he was called up for national service and posted to North Africa from 1950 to 1952 with the East Surrey Regiment.
When he returned, Davies taught English and Maths at the Mountside Boys School, Staffordshire, until his wife persuaded him to try amateur dramatics. He enrolled on a drama course at Richmond College in 1961 before getting tiny roles in British drama series including Probation Officer and Z Cars. After four years touring the Northern club circuit as a double act with actor Don Estelle, the pair was spotted by casting agents.
They were both called in to audition for It Ain't Half Hot Mum, which was set in a Royal Artillery concert party in the final month of World War Two, and Davies’s welsh accent set him apart for his Cockney-sounding competitors. The follow-up comedy for Dad's Army creators Jimmy Perry and David Croft, who were both ex-army, was a success and praised for its realistic depictions of army life. It ran for eight series between between 1974 and 1981 and peaked at 15 million viewers. The show, rarely shown today, stirred up controversy after white actor Michael Bates blacked up to play an Indian native.
Davies was known for his booming voice with its distinctive Welsh-accent, as well as his character Sergeant Major’s barking military commands, which earned him the nickname Sgt Major "Shut Up!" Another catchphrase was the drily delivered: "Oh dear, how sad, never mind".
"Apart from the brilliance of the writing, I think It Ain't Half Hot Mum was brilliant because that is how it really was," he told BBC Wales in 2012.
"Sergeant majors had these recognisable forms of expression and all that stuff. A lot came from [writers] David Croft and Jimmy Perry who were both ex-Army."
The series led to Davies recording a comic version of the popular song Whispering Grass in character with his co-star Estelle, who played the character Gunny Sudgen, ironically nicknamed “Lofty” on account of Estelle’s height of five-foot-nine, in 1975. The record went to become an unlikely number one and sold over a million copies.
The actor will also be remembered for starring as a sergeant major in two Carry On films, Carry On Behind in 1975 and Carry On England in 1976, as well as a one-off episode of BBC drama Grand Slam in 1978 add in ITV comedy Never the Twain as competitive antique dealer Oliver Smallbridge from 1981 to 1991. In his later life, Davies’s instantly recognisable deep voice was frequently heard in adverts for Cadbury and Heinz, as well as on the radio. In 1984, he auditioned, unsuccessfully, to be the voice of England’s speaking clock. He retired from acting over a decade ago, to live with his wife in the South of France.